Action research

Heather Waterman, School of Nursing, Midwifery and Social Work.

Essence of action research

Action research usually involves a group of people carrying out systematic enquiries to assist them to improve some aspect of their life which is causing conflict or tensions.

Key aims

The aim of action research is to bring about a transformation of understanding in the participants that underpins changes in their social circumstances. It is a democratic problem solving approach achieved through a cyclical process that moves between initial problem identification and reflection to planning, taking action, evaluation then further reflection and planning.


The process requires a critical stance that examines the adequacy and appropriateness of values that underpin behaviour and a critical examination of power relationships that might inhibit or facilitate behaviour. The collaboration between researcher and participant may range from co-option when there is token participant involvement to collective action. The participation of those experiencing the problem is thought to lead to better, longer lasting changes than what might have been achieved if they were not involved.

Experts and users of action research


  • Power Z. Thomson A. Waterman H. (2010) Understanding the Stigma of Hyperemesis Gravidarum: Qualitative Findings from an Action Research BIRTH 37(3)237-244.
  • Power Z. Kitchener H. Campbell M. Waterman H. (2009) The Hyperemesis Impact of Symptoms Questionnaire: development and validation of a clinical tool International Journal of Nursing Studies 47: 67-77.

This project aimed to improve the care of women who were experiencing severe nausea and vomiting in pregnancy. The two papers report on two aspects of the study the qualitative research on woman’s experiences of the condition and the other paper which explains how we developed a clinical tool to assess the impact of hypermesiss on women and an accompanying handbook to guide practitioners in their care. 

  • Waterman H, Griffiths J, Gellard L, O’Keefe C, Olang G, Obwanda E, Ayuyo J, Ogwethe V, Ondiege J. (2007) Power brokering, empowering, and educating: the role of home-based care professionals in the reduction of HIV-related stigma in Kenya. Qualitative Health Research 17(8)1028-39.

In contrast, this article discusses an action research project which took place near Lake Victoria in Kenya. The aim of this project was to improve home based care for people living with HIV/AIDS. It shows how health care workers can work with individuals, communities and the government to take action to improve the situation.

  • Waterman H, Marshall M, Noble J, Davies H, Walshe K, Sheaff R, Elwyn G, (2007) ‘The role of action research in the investigation and diffusion of innovations in health care: the PRIDE Project’. Qualitative Health Research 17 (3) 373-81.
  • Marshall M. Noble J. Davies H. Waterman H. Walshe K. Sheaff R. Elwyn G. (2006) Development of an information source for patients and the public about general practice services: an action research study. Health Expectations. 9(3):265-74.

This large action research project covered two countries (Wales and England) and 17 general practices. One of the papers listed explains how we improved the reporting of quality in general practices and the other reflects on how action research may be utilized to investigate and diffuse innovations.

Text books on action research

  • Kemmis S, McTaggart R (1998) The Action Research Planner 3rd Edition. Deakin University Victoria - provides a very good overview of the process of action research from a critical theory perspective especially on the first phase of initial reflection
  • Koshy E. Koshy V. Waterman H. (2010) Action research for healthcare: A practical guide Sage London
  • Waterman H, Tillen D, Dickson R, Koning de K. (2001) Action research: a systematic review and assessment for guidance. Health Technology Assessment 5(23) - provides a good overview of action research studies including a discussion of the pivotal factors that might affect the outcome of an action research project and 20 questions for the appraisal of action research projects
  • Winter R. Munn-Giddings C. (2001) A handbook for action research in health and social care. Routledge, London - this book covers a lot of the methodological issues of action research.

A few useful web pages

PDF slides

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